1. One and Only
The first secret had been that Old Rory, Merry’s grandfather, despised his younger brothers, Dodinas and Dinodas, and intended to make certain that upon his death neither sibling would have access to a single gold piece from Rory’s pockets. Instead, Saradoc would receive their inheritance in trust, to be used exclusively for their expenses. Legitimate expenses, Old Rory had said to Merry’s parents while they all dined together, and Da and Mum had nodded knowingly.
In response to Merry’s questions, Mum had said that Donnie and Dinnie had an overfondness for games of chance, and would even go so far as Bree to find a good one. This had led to them losing great sums of money in their youth (the second secret of the year), and upon his death their father, Merry’s Great-Granda Gorbadoc, had left Rory in charge of their expenses, just as Rory intended to leave Saradoc responsible for them. Donnie and Dinnie, however, were living under the impression that when Rory finally expired they would be free hobbits, and were due for a dreadful shock when the day came around.
The third secret had not really been a secret, but had felt like one because Merry had not really understood anything about it, and he thought someone ought to have explained to him before he was all of 14 years old. He had been looking in a trunk in the family storage room for the hat he had worn last winter when he had come across a box of tiny dresses and hair ribbons.
They had been his sisters’, Merry was certain as he pulled them out one by one to examine them, and he suddenly realized that these had been real little lasses, not just names or distant relatives that he had never known, and that if they were alive, they would be his older sisters. This was something he felt he should have understood, but had never really realized before, and it made him overwhelmingly sad.
His da found him sitting on the floor of the storage room, tiny embroidered skirts and smocks and dresses surrounding him. Saradoc had sat down on the floor with him and said, “What do you want to know, Merry-lad?”
“Everything,” Merry said truthfully, so Saradoc told him all about each lass -- what she looked like, and what she liked to eat, and which were her favorite stories, and what her favorite games were. Then Merry had cried, and Saradoc had cried, and then Merry had said, “I’m sorry, Da. I never thought about them like this before.”
Saradoc had dried Merry’s tears with his shirt sleeve, then said, “I didn’t want you to, not until you were ready. Now let’s put these away before your mother sees them out.”
The fourth secret was quite a nice one, for Merry had caught Pearl kissing Falco Brownlock in the secondary pantry at the Great Smials. Later that day, Pearl had begged Merry not to tell anyone, as she was still only 21 and much too young to be courting. “But he is my one and only, Merry,” she had confided. “You’ll dance with me at our wedding someday.” (Merry did not know it yet, but 12 years later, Pearl’s prediction would come true, and as he danced proudly with the beautiful bride, Pearl would whisper in his ear, “Thank you, Merry, for keeping my secret.”)
The fifth secret he was uncertain of, as he had overheard it from gossiping great-aunts and cousins, and had not worked up the courage to ask anyone if it were true. And the sixth secret was the one he had discovered just last night, but he could not make heads or tails of it. He worried the matter in his head all morning before, fed up with secrets, he decided to hunt down the secret-holder and ask him to have out with it.
Merry was at the Smials, as he had been since Yule, keeping Pippin amused. Pip had been sick again this winter, and was desperate for Merry’s companionship. Merry, in turn, had begun pining for some more active entertainment after awhile, and so Frodo had come down from Bag End to stay with both his lads through the long winter months.
Once Pippin was down for his afternoon rest, tucked into bed and under Briony’s watchful eye, Merry went in search of Frodo. He found him in his room at the small writing desk, busily penning a letter. Taking a deep breath, Merry planted himself beside the desk and crossed his arms in front of his chest.
“Yes, Merry?” Frodo asked, with a touch of condescending amusement in his voice. He did not look up from his letter.
“I saw you and Reg in here last night,” Merry stated baldly, and Frodo dropped his quill. He looked at Merry in astonishment, then quietly said, “Shut the door, Merry.”
“I want to know what it means,” Merry said stubbornly.
“Then shut the door,” Frodo said again, seriously. Merry shut the door and turned back to Frodo. “Come sit down,” Frodo said, pointing to the edge of the bed. He turned his chair to look Merry face-on once the younger hobbit was seated.
“What do you mean, you saw Reg and I in here last night?” Frodo began cautiously.
“I came to find you and the door wasn’t latched so I started to open it, and I saw you and Reg in here hugging, and you were crying and then Reg kissed your hair and then he kissed you on the lips,” Merry said in a big rush. “And I don’t understand because Reg is to marry Primrose Bracegirdle in a few years and you’re both too old to kiss lad cousins on the lips and I don’t know why you cried but if it’s Reg’s fault I will hit him for you.”
Frodo frowned. “Merry, I know your father talked to you about trying to solve problems by hitting this past summer,” he said, “and I would be very upset if you ever hit anyone because of me.”
Merry flushed. “All right,” he said. “I won’t. But I still don’t understand what’s happening and why you have secrets from me, Frodo.”
Frodo cleared his throat and leaned forward to put his elbows on his knees. He looked at his clasped hands for a long while, silent.
“Merry,” he finally said, “you know that most lads grow up to fancy lasses, and fall in love with them, and get married and have babies.”
“Reg is not a lass,” Merry said. He did not need a talk about where babies came from. He’d had that with his da, and from what Saradoc had said, there was no way two lads could make a baby.
“No, he is not,” Frodo said, and his lips twitched into a slight, sad smile. “But not all hobbits grow up to fancy lasses. Some lads grow up to fancy other lads, in the way most hobbits fancy lasses, and they fall in love with them just as another hobbit-lad might fall in love with a lass.”
Merry considered this. “But I’ve never heard of two lads getting married, Frodo, and they can’t have babies,” he finally said, logically.
“No. They can’t do either of those things,” Frodo said. “And many hobbits, Merry, feel it isn’t proper for two lads to fall in love, and to show that love by kissing one another as you saw Reg kissing me.”
Merry turned this over in his head. “Frodo,” he said slowly, “are you in love with Reg? The way a hobbit would be in love with a lass he wants to marry?”
“Yes, Merry, I am,” Frodo said quietly, and his voice quivered a little.
“But Reg is going to marry Primrose,” Merry said. “So he’s not in love with you, right?”
Frodo swallowed, and the knuckles on his clasped hands grew white. “No, Merry, Reg is in love with me, too. But his parents want him to marry Primrose, and she is a good lass. So that is what Reg is going to do. Not everyone gets to marry the person they fall in love with, you know. But Reg will be a good husband to Primrose, and will try to make her happy, and will take good care of her and any children they might have.”
Merry was very still and quiet as he contemplated these new ideas. He knew that just because two hobbits got married didn’t mean they were in love with each other. He knew that sometimes, a lad or lass’ parents would choose someone for them to marry. But it seemed an awful thing to marry one hobbit when you were in love with another.
“That isn’t very fair to Primrose, still, is it?” he asked Frodo.
“I don’t know,” Frodo said truthfully.
Merry plucked at the quilt on the bed. “And it isn’t very fair to you,” he added. “Is that why you were crying, Frodo? Because Reg is going to marry Primrose?”
“Yes,” Frodo said sadly. “We are not going to kiss anymore like that, because we do not want to hurt Primrose’s feelings, should she find out. And I think that after Pippin is well again, I will not come to the Smials for awhile.”
“Because you don’t want to see Reg at all if you can’t kiss him?” Merry asked astutely, and Frodo nodded. Merry felt hot tears prick at his eyes. “But that is too sad, Frodo,” he said. “It is too sad for you, and for Primrose, and even for Reg, though I think he is wrong to marry Primrose when he is in love with you.”
“It is sad for Reg,” Frodo agreed, “and you must remember, Merry, that he wants to be a good son, and do as his parents think best. Perhaps he is wrong, but perhaps you should not judge him when you have not stood where he stands now. This was not an easy decision for him.”
Merry unraveled a loose thread on the quilt, not looking at Frodo. “What else could he have done?” he asked. “Could he have come to live with you at Bag End? Did you ask him to do that?”
“That isn’t your business, Merry,” Frodo said gently. “What we could have done is between Reg and I.”
Merry nodded, and traced the lines of the stitching on the quilt with his index finger. “Are you going to get married someday, Frodo?”
“No.” Now Frodo sounded somewhat amused. “I think I would be a dreadful husband. And there is no one to tell me I must or should get married, so I will leave well enough alone.”
Merry had one last question before he could let things go, and he made himself look Frodo in the eye for it. “Frodo,” he said, “is Reg your one and only?”
Frodo’s breath caught in his throat, and he moved to sit beside Merry on the bed and put an arm around the younger lad’s shoulders. “He might be, at that, Merry,” he said, and then he used his handkerchief to wipe away tears Merry had not been aware of shedding.
“I am sorry, then,” Merry muttered as he took the handkerchief and wiped his face. “I am sorry for you both.”
“Thank you, Merry,” Frodo said gently. “Do you have any other questions?” Merry blew his nose, and nodded. Frodo laughed. “I should have guessed,” he said. “But ask away, for I will keep no more secrets from you.”
“Good,” Merry said firmly. “I don’t like them. I just wanted to know -- does Cousin Bilbo know? That you fancy lads, I mean.”
“Bilbo and I have no secrets from each other, Merry,” Frodo said, sounding relieved that the question was so benign. “But he does not think it is a bad thing, to fancy lads, and he will never ask me to marry if I do not want to.”
“That is good,” Merry said with a relieved sigh. Then something else occurred to him. “Does Cousin Bilbo fancy lads, as well?”
Frodo chuckled. “No,” he said, “though I don’t think he fancies lasses much either. If you asked him, I wager he would tell you that what he fancies is peace and quiet and freedom.”
Merry smiled back at Frodo. “That sounds like Cousin Bilbo, all right,” he said. Then he worried at his lower lip with his upper teeth.
“And what is your next question, Merry?” Frodo prodded, and Merry had to look down at the handkerchief still in his hands.
“I think maybe I should not ask this one, as it is about something I heard at the Hall, and it was gossip anyway, and it had to do with Cousin Bilbo,” he confessed, but Frodo nudged his ribs with an elbow.
”Come on, you have asked everything else,” he said. “I will answer if I can.”
“But,” Merry hesitated, “but it was about your parents, Frodo.”
“Oh.” Frodo was quiet, and Merry did not dare look at him. Then the older hobbit rested his chin on Merry’s head. “I suppose I can guess what you heard, then, for I heard it myself, years ago.”
Merry swallowed nervously. This was the fifth secret of the year, the one that had seemed too big for him to ask anyone about. “I heard that Cousin Bilbo courted your mother at the same time your father did, but then she married your father, and Bilbo never courted anyone ever again, and he did not speak to your father for a long time,” he said in a single breath.
Frodo, his chin still on Merry’s head, nodded slightly and made a slight “mmm” noise. “I did hear that, too,” he finally said, “and before I went to live with Bilbo, I asked him about it. And he said that my mother had been very special to him, but so was my father, and that the only person my mother had ever loved more than my father was me, and he had never wished any of us anything but happiness.”
This did not sound to Merry like what he had heard was wrong, exactly, but at the same time, it seemed very different from what he had heard.
“Anyway,” Frodo’s voice had sunk to a whisper, “I do know that he loves me and cares for me, just as if I were his own son. I think he would do anything for me, Merry.”
“I am glad you have him, Frodo,” Merry answered, also in a whisper, and Frodo squeezed Merry gratefully.
“I am glad, too,” he said in a normal voice. “And I am glad I have you. Now, are there still more questions in you? You must never be afraid to ask me something, Merry, and I will always answer, if I can.”
Merry nodded, then said, “All right, but those are all my questions for now. But, Frodo, I do not think I will fancy lads or lasses. I don’t know why any of you tween-agers would rather be off kissing someone than playing roopie or conkers or doing something fun.”
Frodo threw back his head and laughed, loud and long. “Oh, Merry,” he gasped, “I will remind you that you said so in another 10 years.”
Merry, feeling his dignity had been insulted but not quite certain how, stood to leave with pride. He paused when his hand touched the doorknob, though, and turned back slightly.
“I won’t tell anyone, Frodo,” he said. “About you and Reg, I mean. It is your secret, and I will keep it safe.”
Frodo had been chuckling still, but now he stopped. “I know I can trust you with any secret, Merry,” he said, no trace of mirth in his voice. “Even the biggest secret would be safe with you.”
Merry stood up straighter. He was all of 14 years old, after all, and now worthy of secret-keeping. “I suppose this will be the biggest one,” he said, unable to imagine a secret greater than this.
“Perhaps,” Frodo said mildly. “But we are going to be friends for many years, Merry. You never know what kinds of secrets may come along.”
At suppertime, Pippin would bounce on the bed and upset his tray, and that evening, Briony would scold Merry for playing tiggy-back with Pip, and even later that evening, Merry would wallop Frodo soundly in draughts, and so the end of the conversation would fade from Merry’s mind. When he recalled it again, more than 20 years later, it would be with a cold chill up his spine, and a catch in his breath.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.